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Telling My Son the Bad News About His Stepdad

chappy-noah

Noah and Chappy, three years ago.

This morning I told you the sad news about Chappy, Noah’s stepdad, and his recent motorcycle accident that has left him in a coma fighting for his life.

What happens from here, I don’t know. His wife (Noah’s mom) doesn’t know. The doctors don’t know. All they know is that things are finally looking good for the surviving stage of it and from here it is a matter of when he’ll wake up, how much brain damage their might be, and what kind of life he’ll be able to live.

The accident happened last Tuesday morning. One week ago. The first three days were so scary for everyone. The doctors had nothing positive to say and no hope to give. There was a chance he’d make it and a good chance he wouldn’t. With traumatic brain injuries you can’t just take an x-ray or get scanned under a machine and know what your fate will be. You have no choice but to wait it out. You have no choice but to let time do its beautiful or ugly thing.

And that was where things were beyond difficult last week as Noah’s parents. His mom (Andrea) and I had big decisions to make together about what to tell him and when.

Andrea was understandably an emotional wreck. Her life as wife and mother had just been flipped upside down. She had no answers, only more and more and more questions. Being a mom had to take a back seat to being a wife for a while, but I still had to have her blessing when it came to handling it with Noah.

Thankfully, he was staying with me when it happened and I was able to keep him several days longer than was originally scheduled. But since he was with me, the question was, leave him in the dark? Or tell him openly about what was going on.

It would have been an easy decision had there been any concrete (or even Jell-o-esque would do) idea of what was going to happen to his stepdad. But with the possibility that he might die being a very real one, his mom and I decided to wait a little while until things started heading more solidly in any one direction. To be honest, I don’t think either of us had specific reasons for it. It just felt like the right thing to do.

And so, for the first two days, as I got update after update (none of which were very good) and talked to people about it, and made sure others who needed to know heard the news, Noah played happily as he always does, oblivious to his stepdad’s fight at life.

CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE

1087 comments
MEmeME
MEmeME

Just wondering if there was any update to this? I've looked all over the blog, but can't seem to find anything beyond this... Is Chappy "okay"? I seen you're taking time off the blog, but hope that you'll update us when you get back...

KateKvingeBurch
KateKvingeBurch

How wonderful to have another man is your son's life, that is there for him when you're not able to be.  I hope that we hear positive news on your blog soon

Mary May
Mary May

Been there done that. Its all about Love.

MeganRankin
MeganRankin

This made me cry. I will keep Chappy in my prayers. 

Fay Lock
Fay Lock

I wish this world had more dads like you! I do believe in God and will Pray for "Chappy"

Sarah Starkey
Sarah Starkey

You did good. Sending the good to you and yours.

Tigereye
Tigereye

I have been there. My husband had a motorcycle accident and my daughters were five months old and three years at the time. They do NOT understand that daddy isn't coming home right now or that he might never come home, but you have to keep going - letting them see you hurting as well, even if they don't really understand why. My eldest kept asking me when he was coming home, and I had no answers. No one had answers then.

I was lucky. He pulled through and my girls still have a father and although he is not the same man (brain injuries are unpredictable and ugly) he still loves them and does his best for them. He has no short term memory and sometimes battles to remember events from our past as well, and it obviously frustrates him but he is alive. 

I hope that Chappy will pull through and that they will be buddies again.

S Whited
S Whited

You do such a good job loving the people in your life.  Blessings to you and your family!!!!!


Stacy Kalanick
Stacy Kalanick

Please keep us fb friends posted ... you & family have A LOT of us hoping & praying for you & family. . . Hugs & loves to all ♡

Samantha Gomes
Samantha Gomes

I think you handled that perfectly. I was 7 when my mom had to give me similar news about my uncle. Who I was very close to. He wasn't my father but he was my best friend. And I did the exact same thing Noah did. I needed a hug and some time alone. I so hope it works out better for you guys though sadly my uncle was lost in 9/11. All my prayers for Noah, Chappy and the rest of you <3

Cindy Mahoney
Cindy Mahoney

my husband died when our children were 13 and 16. they wer much younger when he got sick. i never lied to them and we stuck together. be honest but put it to where they can understand. never lie.

Jenny DeGone
Jenny DeGone

Dan I'm so sorry. Thinking of you and Noah and Chappy and hoping for the best.

Jill Morris
Jill Morris

I want to write to you as a person who was the child whose dad had a traumatic brain injury. You're doing the right things--but there are many right things to come. 

First, the details: I was recently 12 when my dad suffered an AVM bleed and was in the hospital for close to four months. It happened the last day of school before summer. We went to the hospital to visit him every day that summer. 

I don't know your son (though it sounds like you do), but I know my mom, grandma, and other relatives had NO IDEA what was going on in my head at the time. I was older, of course, so some of these things won't map onto a six year old, but some will.

First, I felt like childhood was over (for a variety of reasons I was right--mostly that my mom and grandma's ability to cope with my dad's disabilities without becoming angry, bitter, and hostile was very low, but also because of other things). Driving to the hospital that afternoon I started crying because I knew beyond a doubt that nothing would ever be the same. The freedom I had before was gone. 

I thought we'd never go on vacation, never really celebrate holidays, that my still playing with toys or video games from time to time would be unappreciated and frowned upon, and so on. I gather this is not the case for your son, but he may think it will be. Who knows what cultural narratives about illness he has picked up from his friends, from television, from other media? I knew from that moment forward it was not about me, and even though that was selfish and awful I was a CHILD and children are selfish and awful and that's okay. 

So he needs to know what will change and what will be the same at whatever level he can deal with.

He also needs to be told how to deal with stupid ass adults.

I was 12 and everyone started talking to me about my dad in baby talk--ridiculous. Also I can name at least 20 adults to this day that told me that I would have to be "especially good now" and "not stress out your mom" and "give your mom lots of hugs." I was to NEVER burden my mom with any of my problems, according to these people (including my grandma who lived with us) because she was dealing with so much. I even had religious adults tell me that if I was especially good that my "daddy" would get better. I didn't have the heart to tell them I thought they were full of shit.

But, nevertheless, these things affected me. I felt funny and thought twice about bringing my mom into the loop about any problems I was having--even ones completely unrelated to my dad. I became very insular, acted out sometimes, and it hurt the relationship I had with my mom and grandma permanently. We were close and we aren't now. I needed permission to tell these people no both in reality but also in my head and heart--that's hard to do as a kid.

Relatedly, some teachers will excuse any behavior of his because of the accident. I don't know if that's a good thing or not--it just happens and is something worth talking to them about. At 12 I needed somebody to kick my ass from time to time and nobody really did. Maybe they thought puberty + father nearly dying and being permanently disabled was enough. Who knows.

Let's see... hrm. The hospital might not let the kids see him, but if you think it is good for your son to see him let him do so. Please. If something happens and an infection sets in don't let your son regret not seeing him one last time if he dies. Regrets at that age do last, even if they are silly (I regretted not kissing my grandpa in his coffin, for example, for 20 years until given the chance to do so for my grandma, did, and found out just how sort of gross and wrong it felt.) Prepare him in advance, of course, for what he is likely to see. Have him bring a drawing or something else to leave in the room.

Likewise, the kids need to be prepared when he comes home, but they also need to know what parts of their lives can remain completely normal. I was a lot older and having my father at home, walking, talking, but that was about it was very strange. I was largely left unattended, told to do something quietly in my room, and having me around at all often confused him and made him act out (he wanted to do the things we always had and could not). I live 300 miles away and when I visit I disrupt his schedule and my mom's and they both get angry and sort of awful, and I wish our relationship hadn't turned out this way--I just have no idea how to change it.

When you're a kid and your parent is now parenting your other parent things are HARD. People asked me if I was okay but I didn't have the slightest clue how to tell them how i felt about my dad having stood in the middle of the bathroom and peed on the floor in the middle of the night. I didn't know how I felt about the fact a doctor told my mom right in front of me that due to where his brain injury was that she should never have sex with him again because he might hurt her. I had no words for how to react when the same doctor told my mother she didn't want "that" (referring to my dad) in her home.

Truthfully, we all needed therapy. We didn't get it. My family didn't believe in it. My grandmother just thought it was my mom's duty to bring him home and cater to his every need after 3 months' more therapy and that was that. We would take care of it as a family behind closed doors. No one was allowed to see or know. We didn't talk about it. 

He got better, stopped peeing on the floor (though my mom still screams at him for peeing too often when he gets up to do so), but sits in front of a tv for every hour of the day now. That's it. And my mom's angry. We needed help. 

I've been running away for a long long time. I went to college 500 miles away from home and took a faculty position 300 miles away mostly because i can't help. My mom thinks she is trapped (she is not) and even though my dad is fine being alone she won't leave him there. She is all but agoraphobic. 

So my last advice is this--my story isn't "normal" but it's not all that irregular. You, your family, your ex, your kid--you will need help recuperating the family from this. Please get it. Please don't turn it away. Don't assume your son is fine with everything because--really--nobody knows how complicated kids' heads can be. You don't know what stupid crap his teachers, relatives, and friends' parents will tell him. He needs someone with absolutely no stake in the matter who will be "safe" to talk to. I found that person in my friends' mom Elaine eventually, but without training or degree she could only do so much. :) 

I am, of course, hoping for a full recovery like everyone who has written here. But I wish someone had told my mom this stuff, I wish I had had somebody to scream "it's not fair!" to about this stuff. Because it's not but kids are expected to be "good" and are told to be thankful it isn't worse. There's plenty of time to think that as an adult. Kids need to have their injustice heard.


LJP
LJP

My 19-year-old son was killed while riding his motorcycle...with a helmet.  It's heartbreaking when anyone is hurt, of course, but when hurt or killed in a cycle accident, my heart breaks anew with a palpable pain.  My thoughts and prayers are with you, Noah, Noah's mom, Chappy, and the rest of the family.

Allie West
Allie West

I cried when I read this.. having lost people in motorcycle wrecks in my life.. it was all too real for me. I hope this is something we never have to do with my son, but I hope that if we do, we can handle it with the grace that you did. Good going Dan.

Tina Makarewicz
Tina Makarewicz

This was a heart breaking story that I read about you and your family, Am not going to get in to mine, As a single mother with there father that got killed, But what is important is that you have a lot of people out here reading about you Noah and your ex wife, My heart goes out to you all, And def in my prays, stay strong for Noah and his dad and also Noahs mom God bless you, As theres not many man out there that would of respected like you did, I amend you , God bless you, prays with you all, Heart hurts for you all, Thanks for sharing, So we all can pray for every one ,

Erin23
Erin23

What a hard thing I'm sure this all is for Noah & all of Chappy's loved ones to be going through. You certainly made the hard & right choice for telling Noah that there had been a serious accident. While driving around in the car these past few months or so, any time I see a motorcycle rider without their helmet I make a point to say something to whoever else is in the car about their helmet less heads. It may be more at the forefront of my thoughts these days since I did suffer a traumatic brain injury at the hands of my now ex husband almost 5 years ago & it probably subconsciously angers/irritates me that people take for granted the fact that they have all their body parts they were born with & take it for granted so much that they think nothing can happen to them! As unfortunate a thing as this all is to have happened, I'm sure it unfortunately guarantees that Noah never gets on himself or allows others to get on a motorcycle w/o a helmet or at least telling others that they should really ride with all the protective gear that is possible and available to them. Life offers good lessons at times. Unfortunately, they sometimes come at high costs- either to our selves or those we love...

Hope Chappy takes a turn for the better soon & eventually a recovery is in his future! Stay strong for Noah & your ex wife when needed! Lots of positive vibes & thoughts being sent for all of you in this hard time!

Patti Price Spathes
Patti Price Spathes

I share your page daily with my single dad youngest son, I hope he sees that he will meet someone else when the time is right, he is blessed to have his son 50% of the time ....which is better then the every other weekend he used to have, and I pray daily when the time comes and Wyatt has a great stepdad (please God let him be a great step dad not the turd who is in her life right now) that Matt will be able to see that it gives Wyatt more and does not take a thing away from anyone!! Prayers for you and your entire family!!

Martina Martin
Martina Martin

your an awesome man and a great father what a beautiful bond you have with your son he will cherish this forever its too bad other people that go thru divorces cant be like you the world would be a happier place...God Bless You :-) and thx for sharing

ChristinaDunton
ChristinaDunton

my heart is breaking for everyone involved and you have my faithful prayers in upstate new York.. god is good and that is what we have to have faith in.. hold onto that and don't ever let go.. lots of love and hugs to everyone

bcasady
bcasady

Thank you for sharing. People are always talking about women's intuition.  Men have it also.  You understand that this little man has two dads that love him.  You respect their relationship and are not threatened by it.  Your son is lucky.  I think you handled the situation the best way that was possible.  Honesty is a way of respecting the child.  I am so sorry that your son is having to experience this at his young age.  I hope Chappy is eventually OK.  Prayers for all of your family.

TracyYeoman
TracyYeoman

I have so enjoyed your posts the little time I've been reading them.  This one has earned you my ultimate respect.  If only more families would "blend" their families as well as you have.  A lot of men would find fault or at the very least feel threatened by Noah and Chappy's relationship.  The pictures truly depict the love Chappy and Noah share.  Way to go, you truly are a good man.  Prayers are being said for Chappy, Noah, You and all the rest of your families. 

RonClough
RonClough

Dan, I feel like you're a friend of mine through the short time that I've been subscribed to your blog.  My heart goes out to your family (extended and otherwise) and to Chappy.  I don't know what your thoughts are on Reiki, but I'm sending regardless.  Take care of yourself and your family.

Gypsie
Gypsie

My heart is with you all. I've got tears in my eyes reading all the news. My thoughts and hopes are for the best possible outcome!

Latest blog post: 15 Easy ways to Stay Fit.

ShannonAileenKenyon
ShannonAileenKenyon

Your story comes at a very difficult time for my family. My mother in law passed away at her own hand on Aug 17 after 2 days of us hoping we could take her off life support and she would recover. Instead, we made the difficult decision to take her lead and let her go. That was 2 years ago this month and it hurts every day still. She left a 14 year old son, a 20 year old son and a 28 year old son behind. As well as my son, her 7 month old grandson. I just had my second child in May via emergency c-section and almost died from complications of infection 3 weeks later. Even after surgery, my doctors expected me to crash as people who are as sick as I was rarely live. How was my husband going to tell a 2.5 year old with learning delays that his mommy was not coming home. I am so glad it did not come to that.


It is often something we wish we never had to do. To explain death to any child of any age is very difficult. Dan, I ache for you and Noah and Noah's Mom and Chappy. There are no words that will comfort you at this time, just prayer and lots of it. God says that fervent prayer, prayer that boils from your heart, is what reaches Heaven. It sounds as though you understood that in your moment of prayer. Please believe that I will be praying for all of you. For peace, understanding and hope no matter what the outcome. I will also be praying for healing for Chappy. And for Noah.

CRMT
CRMT

I have no words.  Sending you and your family love and light and healing thoughts. How terrifying...

Pearl Dill
Pearl Dill

What a great dad! You are amazing!

Beth Dyer Stanford
Beth Dyer Stanford

Sorry to hear about this. Thank you for sharing. I am praying for you, Noah, Jeff & the family.

Cherrie Kunzmann
Cherrie Kunzmann

In our thoughts and prayers. Praying for him to pull through

Lindsey Wade
Lindsey Wade

this made me cry...he just seems like such a great stepdad!

trclark81
trclark81

I lost my dad when I was 11 and I can remember hearing the news and all of the events for the next few days.  Not with stunning clarity, but most of the important bits are still there.  And I have to tell you, the one thing I remember with crystal clarity were the quiet moments when I just cried or sat silently and didn't try to make sense of it all.  No explanations, no rationalizations or talks about 'a better place' etc.  With people, without people, it didn't matter.  And when I'm remembering thart loss and reliving it, those are the memories I go back to for comfort.  Your honesty and your moment with him just holding him and letting him feel whatever it was he needed to feel will probably be one of the few things he'll remember with crystal clarity well into his adult years.  And if he's anything like I was, he'll be grateful for it.  Well done.

lbmill
lbmill

This hit very close to home. Nov.14th 2011 I was driving home from work and got a call that my sons dad was in a wreck. My son who was only 5 at the time was still at the babysitters. Unfortunately, I was unable to pick him up as I went straight to the hospital. A family member picked him up and told him his dad was in a wreck. I regret that moment, as I was not there to comfort him. He was devastated. His best friend in the whole world was hurt. When I finally got to my son, we came home and he had his dads belt he wore, I found him laying in our bed, sobbing. I admire your decision. Its so much for a child to take in. It has affected my son to this day. Thankfully, by the grace of god his dad made it through. Please have hope. We lost his dad twice that night. He was in ICU for 30 days with multiple injuries including a traumatic brain injury. I'm happy to say, that today he is doing great. We have came a long way, but I know the scar my son has will always be there. God Bless You all, and I will keep you in my prayers!

Tracey Williams Koyn
Tracey Williams Koyn

You do it just like you did. You hit it head on, with love and gentleness and tell the whole truth as you know it. Thanks for sharing this event - it can't be easy for anyone. Prayers for Chappy to make a full recovery! Great job SDL!

Susie Jane Williams
Susie Jane Williams

All i can do is pray, not judge, criticise or make needless why or what if comments it achieves and changes nothing nor brings any peace to anyone. I am so sorry your family is feeling such pain. I believe in prayer and I believe every man has an appointed time, my hope in prayer is this is NOT Chappy's time. Peace on all your hearts and minds may you each find comfort and strength whatever the future may hold xx

Astrid-Nanci LeClair Nedweski
Astrid-Nanci LeClair Nedweski

I'm so sorry to hear of this devastation to your family - you absolutely handled it like the loving Dad you are. It's a testament to the bond you have with Noah that he is comfortable loving Chappy and not hiding that from you ... and your welcoming Chappy as a member of your family. This is a tough time for all of you - my thoughts and prayers are with you all - each for different reasons. God is holding you all in the palm of His hand.

Tara Keene-Abramovitz
Tara Keene-Abramovitz

So very sorry to hear this news. You all will be in my thoughts and prayers until you tell us he's awake and smiling again.

Tara Keene-Abramovitz
Tara Keene-Abramovitz

Agree with you 100%. I've been in all those circumstances myself, most especially today - and I too know how good it can be for the child whose father is secure enough to encourage these relationships, and how toxic it is for the child whose father is NOT.

The Childless Stepmom
The Childless Stepmom

I need you to know what is most incredible to me about this story. Your TRUE love for your son shines through because even though this man is "just a stepdad" , he is far more than that to your son, and because you love your son, you are pushing past any ill feelings of another man being in his life and your son cherishing him, if you even have them, which is common in blended family scenarios. You are being mature, kind and keeping your concern where it matters...on your son and HIS best interest. I know it's not always easy to be a stepparent...I know that first hand. But I love the child in my life, and he loves me. It's not about jealousy or replacement, it's about humility. Good for you

AmyKSalmon
AmyKSalmon

@Jill Morris That was an awesome share, Jill. I'm sure Dan will sift through your experiences to see what will be helpful in his situation with Noah. :) How wonderful he has the opportunity to do this when you and your family did not. Thanks so much for sharing from your memory of a child's experience.

cherylguess1956
cherylguess1956

@Jill Morris Thank you for sharing this with all of us...I know it must of have been very painful to write.  It was not selfish to want a childhood, just normal.  Remember, the more you talk about it and deal with it, it takes the power to hurt you away.  You are in my prayers.

ReenieOakey
ReenieOakey

@Jill Morris  I appreciate your honesty!  My stepson was brain injured  when my youngest daughter was 9.  She managed, as many children do, to believe that  she had some how caused her big brother to crash his motorcycle and be in a coma.  (His brain injury was due to lack of oxygen, his chest was compressed under a vehicle so he couldn't breath, he was otherwise un-injured.  There was no visible reason for him to need all those machines) We ALL needed a "safe person " to be "selfish" with to express our fears with out being judged.  My step-son came out of his coma, walks, talks, feeds himself etc but his short term memory is gone so he has had difficulty re-learning many daily life skills.  I only hope that he doesn't remember that today is the same as yesterday and all the days of the past 12 years.